“We” Got Osama bin Laden?

May 4th, 2011

By Tom Carter

Cheering the Killing of Osama bin LadenLots of Americans are happily shouting, “We got Osama bin Laden!”  When I first heard it, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What do you mean, ‘we’?”  The fact is, the U.S. military and intelligence officers got him, under the leadership of their chains of command, including the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the CIA, and the President.  That’s who “we” is.

I understand what people mean when we say “we.”  It’s the same as cheering a victory by their favorite sports team, taking credit as fans for the hard-fought accomplishments of the team.  That’s fine, I suppose.  But some of those who are cheering the successful operation to find and kill bin Laden are the same people who normally feel nothing but disdain for the military, think volunteering to serve is for fools with no other options, and ridicule the intelligence community as a gang that can’t shoot straight.

The fact that their views are based on ignorance and political bias isn’t the point.  The point is, they should at least be consistent and not take credit for something done by brave, skilled people for whom they normally feel little more than disgust.

These thoughts, uncharitable though they may be, were in my mind when I read an article posted on the At War blog of the New York Times.  It was written by Rebekah Sanderlin, an Army wife and mother who has lived through her husband’s multiple combat deployments.  As is so often the case, great strains on their marriage finally resulted in filing for divorce, but they managed to reconcile.

Ms. Sanderlin’s thoughts are well worth reading and thinking about.  A large majority of military personnel are married and have families, but that fact is often forgotten or ignored by the public.  They suffer stress and deprivation, including daily fear for their loved ones, throughout combat deployments.  These days, with our military — especially the Army and Marine Corps — stretched so thin, the deployments come fast and frequently.

She ended the article with these words, which pretty accurately reflect my views:

…together, my husband and I stayed up to watch the breaking news about the death of Osama bin Laden on television. We were just as excited as everyone else, perhaps even more so. For us Bin Laden’s death was more than a national victory — it was a personal triumph, the taking back of years of our lives and vindication for all the friends we’ve lost.

But watching the spontaneous celebrations outside the White House and ground zero, we were struck by the paradox inherent in the cheering crowds. People, mostly in their 20s and 30s — the same age as our friends who have died and been forever injured — were cheering, “We got him!”


For nearly a decade of war, it hasn’t felt much like “we.” During this, the longest war in our nation’s history, a war fought by less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of the country has seemed mostly to ignore those of us in the military community, tuning in only for our scandals or deaths. And so “we,” in the context of victory, most accurately applies only to the very small number of men and women who have given more than any of us had a right to ask.

The show of patriotism right now is touching and inspiring and reminiscent of the unity felt by all in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. This truly is a time of national celebration. An evil man who tried to engineer our demise and who caused untold grief for so many is dead, and we should all celebrate that victory. But this war is far from over, and tough days are still ahead. It is incumbent on we, as a nation, to share in the burden as well.

Ms. Sanderlin is right — we, as a nation, are obligated to share the burden that so few of our citizens bear in prosecuting the War on Terror.  It would interesting to take a poll of all those who were cheering and shouting “We got him!”  What percentage are willing to volunteer for military service, hoping they can meet the standards?  What percentage are willing to pay higher taxes to fund the wars in progress, to forego certain government-funded benefits, to consume fewer critical resources?  The answer, I’m sure, is very few.

But what the hell.  I guess this is the best we can expect from a fat, coddled, over-privileged society that takes everything for granted, including the rare privilege of being Americans.  At least they’re cheering for soldiers once in a rare while, as opposed to the treatment combat veterans received from many people when we returned from Vietnam.  Something is better than nothing, I suppose.

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11 Responses to ““We” Got Osama bin Laden?”

  1. Brian |

    I wish I could say “we.” I got FFFF at MEPS.

  2. Tom Carter |

    There’s nothing wrong with people feeling pride in an American victory in the field, nor is there anything wrong with thinking of it in terms of “we.” That’s assuming, of course, that those who feel that they are part of the victory support and respect those who do the fighting and that they do their part, whatever it may be, to contribute to the effort.

    Think about the “Greatest Generation” for a moment — not everyone could be in the armed forces during WWII, but almost everyone contributed in some way to sharing the burden of being at war. That kind of national dedication certainly doesn’t exist now in the hearts and minds of many people. That’s why I have to ask: If someone is unwilling to share any of the burden, even paying the extra taxes needed to fund the war during a time when the nation is in economic distress, then how does that person become part of the “we”?

  3. d |

    Because,”we”,pay taxes..these taxes pay these soldiers wages. They do their jobs,for pay,and benefits, which”we” supply. Without that pay,they would not be there. Come on Tom,we all know that the soldiers did the nasty deed,but soldiers are hired guns. Hired by us,maybe “we” don’t always or ever,agree on what
    “our”,hired guns should be doing,but “we”,are still paying them. There may be much discussion about what our soldiers do,but,”we” are a democracy,and these soldiers do what the majority of us tells them to do,by our votes,is this not correct?

  4. Tom Carter |

    Well, this wasn’t about who does or doesn’t pay taxes. In any case, that’s not a sign of showing support or lack of support for anything the government does. Taxes aren’t voluntary, and what the government does with each taxpayer’s money isn’t a matter of choice for the taxpayer.

    While we’re on this tangent, it’s recently been reported that 51 percent of people pay no federal income tax. Moreover, some who don’t pay taxes in the first place get money from tax credits and such. I suppose 49 percent of earners could say “we” pay taxes, but that leaves a whole lot, i.e., 51 percent, who aren’t in that particular “we.”

  5. d |

    If a company hires people to do a job,do the workers or the company get the credit for the job? Soldiers are hired workers,doing their job for the Governments money,paid by the “we” who do pay taxes. Unfortunately,I am not wealthy enough to get to not pay taxes,therefore,I am helping to pay the salaries of the soldiers. If,I am wrong,correct me,but, there are, zero,soldiers working for the glory,alone,all are paid “guns”. I do not say “we” are taking credit for the good or bad job,the soldiers are dooing,but,don”t forget who those soldiers work for,WE,The People.

  6. Brian |

    Unfortunately,I am not wealthy enough to get to not pay taxes

    Doris, it is the people with money that pay taxes, including those of us in what is left of the middle class. Now that the “paying class” is down to 49% of the country, I’d say we’re all, in the words of Tonto – “in heap big trouble.”

    And besides, the class-envy thing ill-suits you. Don’t begrudge the wealthy their money because I can promise that there is some young man sitting in a cafe near Casablanca who wishes he had what you have, who believes that you are “the rich.”

  7. d |

    Yeah,I know,Brian,that’s what they say. When I was the working poor,I still paid taxes,but when some people have business,and lots of income,they get so many deductions,they basically,do not pay any taxes. I know this is not what you believe,so I will not try to convince you,but neither will you ever convince me that the wealthy and almost wealthy,pay all the taxes. Everyone knows that the rich,get out of paying most of the taxes they owe. I envy no one,ever. I am the only person you probably know,who cannot create a bucket list,done everything I ever wanted to,and with no regrets.

  8. Brian |

    but when some people have business,and lots of income,they get so many deductions,they basically,do not pay any taxes.

    Doris, I know more than a few people that are loaded, including family members. Most of them pay as much or more in taxes as I make in a year. I just don’t know where you get the idea that high income earners don’t pay taxes. This has nothing whatever to do with whether or not I believe it. The truth doesn’t require belief. The truth can be denied, but that doesn’t stop it from being the truth.

    Having been a small business owner yourself, you should understand that no business pays taxes, they only remit them. The final consumer of any product or service is the one that actually pays the tax. Businesses that don’t pass their tax cost, a cost of doing business, along to their customers, won’t stay in business for very long.

  9. Tom Carter |

    The facts are readily available and widely known; here’s just one source for personal income tax for 2008, the latest year for data:

    The top 1 percent paid 38 percent of total federal income tax.

    The top 5 percent paid 58.7 percent.

    The top 10 percent paid 69.9 percent.

    The top 25 percent paid 86.3 percent.

    The top 50 percent paid 97.3 percent.

    The bottom 50 percent paid 2.7 percent of total federal income tax.

    According to a recent article in The Atlantic, “Half [51%] of American tax payers owe no federal income tax, and most of those filers actually net tax benefits from federal income taxes, according to analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation….”

    While the vast majority of federal income taxes are paid by wealthier people, there are also other elements of an argument about personal income taxes. For example, everyone pays payroll taxes (SS and Medicare) up to a certain limit of income. Maybe that should be higher or lower, maybe the upper limit should be increased, etc. Some wealthy people derive much of their income from capital gains, which are taxed a lower rate but maybe shouldn’t be; that argument falls simply because raising the rate would discourage investment, which is always necessary for the economy to function.

    The argument that the wealthy must pay more is essentially class warfare. Could they pay more, even 3 or 4 percent? Maybe, depending on your political views. From an economic standpoint, however, it’s isn’t possible to solve our current problem if the wealthy were taxed at 100 percent — not even close. For some the issue is why should anyone pay no federal income tax — how is that fair?

    The answer to our current fiscal mess is more taxes and reduced spending. Both have to be addressed from a fair, rational standpoint, not from a class warfare attitude. The big question is, how do we get there?

  10. Rebekah Sanderlin |

    Interesting discussion. I Googled my name and found your blog, thanks for linking to my NY Times piece.
    The only thing I’d like to add to the conversation here is that members of the military and their spouses also pay state and federal taxes. The service member is not taxed while in a combat zone, but is when he/she is not deployed. And the spouse of a service member is never exempt from paying taxes.
    So, using the reasoning that the rest of the country is serving because everyone is paying for the war, then military families are serving twice as much — once by actually serving and a second time by having to pay for it.

  11. Tom Carter |

    Rebekah, thanks for the comment. Your article in the NY Times was refreshing and very well done. The sacrifices and challenges faced by the families of soldiers are often barely visible to the public and in many cases ignored. Very few Americans actually serve, and most of them are supported by families whose contributions deserve far more recognition and much more support.

    Those who are interested in helping military families and thanking them for their service can go here to find a few ways to do it (or click the link at the top of the right sidebar).

    It’s great for Americans to feel enough solidarity with and support for the military to say that “we” accomplished something, but it’s much more significant if that feeling is present when times are hard, battles are inconclusive, and soldiers and their families are suffering. That’s when “we” really means something.

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